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Between the studs

Joan Churchill

Before becoming a home renovator the only definition of “stud” I was familiar with was the guys from The Bachelorette. Studs, by another definition, are used to form the frame of your home’s walls. Made of wood or metal two by fours (or two by sixes), studs are usually placed 16 or 24 inches apart. On exterior walls the space between the studs are filled with insulation and covered with a vapour barrier to help prevent heat loss and reduce drafts. Without that insulation, your home can feel pretty cold. And if it was built in the early part of the last century, your insulation could be insufficient, even non-existent. 

Since purchasing my little pre-war fixer upper, I’d replaced the furnace with a natural gas high-efficiency model, upgraded the windows to double-pane ENERGY STAR® and had insulation blown into the attic. My heating bills were lower and my house was more comfortable, but it was still missing that certain something. I had heat and some modern day attic insulation, but why did it still feel like I was living in a cabin in the woods? 

It didn’t take long to figure out that the walls and floors were lacking insulation. I decided that before I picked out paint colours, kitchen countertops and bathroom fixtures, I’d have to pick out insulation. What good would an updated kitchen or beautifully decorated living room be if it was uninhabitable? When I moved into my house the back third of it literally was. The dining area and a bedroom were a 1960s addition, built over an unheated space. The under-insulated floors made the rooms feel so cold that I had to use an energy-hungry electric space heater in the bedroom. And the dining area remained unused for three winters.

Since the ceiling below the floors was over an unfinished space, I decided this would be the easiest place to begin my DIY insulation project. Upon removing the plywood ceiling I found only one inch of fiberglass insulation, and it was sitting at the bottom of the 10 inch joist, not up against the underside of the floor above. No wonder I was so cold. Brrrr.

It was soon fixed by adding nine inches of stone wool batt insulation to fill the 10 inch joist cavity, bringing the R value up to R38 (meaning really cosy!) and my comfort up tenfold.

Next I did the living room, dining area and kitchen walls. It was a long, dirty job, pulling down paneling and old drywall and then adding new R14 insulation and vapour barrier. But the reward was a warm, inviting house with lower energy bills. No amount of designer finishes can match that.

How much can insulation save?

LiveSmart BC participants who upgraded insulation are saving an average of 15 per cent annually on their home heating costs.

My savings journal

While enjoying dinner in my now insulated dining area, I had a look at my past natural gas bills. I compared my January to February 2012 usage (before insulating the walls and floor) to my January to February 2013 usage. In both these periods the average daily temperature was the same and as I use a programmable thermostat, my furnace settings were as well. But get this! I used 4.5 gigajoules less of natural gas in the 2013 time period, which is about $44 in savings.

Keep the heat in

What’s the moral of my story? Without sufficient insulation in your home, it’s kind of like being in a snowstorm without a winter coat. A furnace will heat up your house, but the insulation helps keep that heat in. So next time you’re renovating, make sure you check behind the walls to see if you need to upgrade the insulation.  

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The kitchen before renovation. Obviously it was outdated but what these photo don’t reveal is that it was also very, very cold, especially the dining area, added onto the house in the 60s and built over an unheated space.
R14 batt insulation and some of the vapour barrier installed.
There was still a lot of work to be done, but at least my
kitchen would now be warm.
My fully renovated, warm and inviting kitchen and dining area. And yes, that’s a gas stove!
Demo sure is hard work! The joists under my dining area and bedroom. The one inch of insulation that was there was sitting at the bottom of joist. It’s now been replaced with nine inches of stone wool batt.